Alleged spy told Senate panel about backing from Russian billionaire
Posted July 22, 2018 1:22 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Maria Butina, the recently indicted Russian national accused of being an agent of Russia, told the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year that Russian billionaire Konstantin Nikolaev had backed her financially, a source familiar with her testimony told CNN.
Butina made international headlines last week when the Justice Department announced her arrest and a grand jury formally approved charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent. The federal case has added to a growing picture of undisclosed foreign attempts to lobby in the US and alleged Russian influence in the political system.
CNN has reached out to Nikolaev through his company for comment.
The charges against her came after she gained the attention of lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and in April, she sat for eight hours of testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Washington Post first reported on this element of Butina's testimony. Additionally, Nikolaev's son supported President Donald Trump's candidacy in the 2016 election, the Post reported, citing a person familiar with his son's activities, and Nikolaev himself was seen at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump's inauguration, the newspaper said, citing two people aware of his presence.
Butina, along with her mentor, Kremlin-linked banker Alexander Torshin, worked for years to establish communications in the US for Russia, according to court filings and previous CNN reporting, and used the National Rifle Association as a major avenue of influence.
Butina, a gun rights activist, founded a pro-gun group in Russia called Right to Bear Arms, which Butina told the Senate panel was the recipient of Nikolaev's funding, a person familiar with her testimony told the Post.
Nikolaev was in contact with Butina as she launched the group between 2012 and 2014, a spokesman for the billionaire told the Post. The spokesman declined to confirm to the Post whether Nikolaev gave her financial support.
Robert Driscoll, Butina's attorney, has pushed back strongly on the accusations against Butina, and told CNN on Friday that much of the US government's case against her was "taken completely out of context."